La Sapienza in Rome, Europe's largest university, is in dire financial straits and will have to cut spending drastically if it cannot get special funding from the state.
Giuseppe D'Ascenzo, who was recently elected Rettore Magnifico, said the university has a deficit of 160 billion lire (Pounds 54 million) and that substantial "belt-tightening" would be necessary.
La Sapienza has about 190,000 students, and 4,200 academic and 6,000 non-academic employees. The University City, as it is known, encompasses a huge area in north-central Rome plus dozens of institutes scattered around the city. Given Italy's rigid employment laws, which forbid the dismissal or transfer of personnel and pay cuts, it is hard to see much scope for reducing spending. Professor D'Ascenzo said that no economies would be considered in research, "otherwise the university might as well close, nor will they involve hikes to student fees".
Professor D'Ascenzo indicated that much of the deficit relates to the Policlinico, the university's hospital and medical school, and that if "resources are not found, there is a risk that the Policlinico will not be able to pay its debts to suppliers".
The rector has appointed a "special administrator" to review and reorganise the Policlinico, but in doing so he clashed with the powerful medical lobby and, in particular, with the dean of the faculty of medicine, Luigi Frati.
Professor D'Ascenzo has indicated that he might have to appoint an outside manager to review the university's entire administrative system. "We are trying to understand how we have reached this point, but it is not simple. When I became rector I found the budgets of some years still open. Our auditors are working diligently. However to make sense of the situation we might need to ask help from the education ministry or from outside consultants."
In a recent interview with The THES, Professor D'Ascenzo said he had found the university's administration in chaos and implicitly blamed his predecessor, Giorgio Tecce, who had been rector for ten years. Professor Tecce had come under official investigation for having given pay rises to some employees without the authorisation or the funds.
Professor D'Ascenzo now has the arduous task of setting the university accounts in order without upsetting too many interests in the network of powerful groups and lobbies that constitute the fabric of the largest university in the world after Mexico City's.